New Vision (Kampala)

Uganda: Falling Fish Stocks Hurt Revenue Collections

Experts have warned that unless drastic measures are taken up by Government to curb on indiscriminate fishing, the sector would cease being Uganda's second foreign exchange earner.

This year alone (2012), the country has earned $136m in fish exports, making the sector the second highest foreign exchange earner.

But this is set to drop due to what experts in the industry have described as 'continuous massive' fishing in the country's waters.

Uganda's fish exports declined by 32% in 2009, heightening alarm over the country's dwindling stocks.

Exports touched a high of 39,000 tonnes in 2005 and have since then been dropping annually.

They pronounced their views at a Private Sector Foundation Uganda (PSFU) organised fish sustainability workshop held at the Silver Springs Hotel Kampala on Thursday.

"The Government needs to act fast to save the depleting fish resources and ensure better fishing practices," said Prof. Maggie Kigozi a consultant at United Nations Industrial Development Organisation (UNIDO).

Kigozi who served as executive director at Uganda Investment Authority for over 10 years said people are putting much emphasis on oil yet it will be used up soon.

"This oil is set to last a few years, but hear all the fuss about it, yet we have a natural resource that can last for ages. We need to do more to bring on board all the various stakeholders to ensure sustainability of the fishing industry," she said.

She pointed out that illegal gear usage is increasing in Uganda. "A policy on zero tolerance fishing is paramount. You cannot liberalise minerals. Regulations must be enforced and prosecution seen to be done. It is not about talking," she said. Kigozi called for immediate setting of fishnet standards.

"We don't have standards, yet these should have been implemented yesterday. UNBS standards on fishnets are not in place."

She said it is unfortunate that nets below four inches that were banned are still cleared by URA customs and don't appear on their banned list.

Lt. Patrick Mwesige, a customs enforcement officer with the URA, said the solution to indiscriminate fishing is to preventing illegal fish gear entry.

"The law is not fully enforced due to inadequate facilitation. How do we handle immature fish, do we keep them in the backyard to rot or put in a fish pond to mature. What we need is a barking law and seriousness from other stakeholders," he said.

Fisheries minister Ruth Nankabirwa vowed to crack the whip on illegal fishermen.

"I will not be let down and will continue making noise. I am appealing for better working relations between URA, UNBS, Police, fisheries officers and BMU to build capacity," she said.

Nankabirwa said she had issued for arrests of any Beach Management Unit officers engaging in illegal fishing.

"I have told them that if I come to a landing site and find undersize nets and illegal fishing gears, they explain, because they were sworn in to avoid this," she said.

Stephen Birahwa Mukitale, the National Economy Committee chairman said, stringent penalties are needed to check on people who use undersize nets.

'We need a ban on night fishing because it is hard to monitor fishermen at night," he said.

"Indigenous fishermen allowed fish to rest, especially during the moon time. When do you expect the fish to reproduce yet you don't allow it to rest. We need to licenses instead of putting a ban," said the legislator.

Mukitale called for research on the feasibility of day fishing.

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